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Apodaca: UCI launches first ROTC program in wake of 'don't ask, don't tell' reversal

October 08, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

Lost amid the recent media frenzy over the so-called Irvine 11 was some good news coming out of UC Irvine.

The repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, which took effect Sept. 20, has resulted in the establishment of the first ROTC program at UCI. The university had previously declined to sanction the military training program's presence on campus because it didn't comply with UCI's nondiscrimination policy.

The university was able to get the program up and running at the start of the current academic year, thanks to the persistence of an enterprising student, and the cooperation of some school officials, who quickly laid the groundwork when it became clear the military's anti-gay policy would change.

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Indeed, as soon as President Obama signed the bill repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" last December, the university began putting the plan in place to begin its inaugural class of U.S. Army ROTC students this fall.

"We've been prepared for it for awhile," said Sharon Salinger, UCI's dean of undergraduate education. "We moved quite quickly when President Obama signed it."

The Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps, started in 1916 to provide leadership and military training at high schools and universities, has commissioned more than 500,000 officers. More than 20,000 cadets are enrolled across the country — 20% of them women.

Among the prominent ROTC alumni are former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Wal-Mart founder Samuel Walton and NBA coach Lenny Wilkens.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was adopted in 1993 under President Clinton. It allowed gays to serve in the military, providing they kept their sexual orientation secret.

The policy, which resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 servicemen and women over the years, strained relations between some colleges and military recruiters. While UCI was a holdout in the UC system — UCLA, UC Berkeley and others have long-established ROTC programs — many Ivy League schools also kept the doors closed to ROTC.

Many of those colleges are also now changing course. A few weeks ago, a formal ceremony was held at Harvard University to welcome the Navy's ROTC program back on campus.

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